Sorry NYTimes, But SLS 20 Is Actually Very Hard

Professors Steven Pinker and Daniel Gilbert chat during intermission yesterday at Harvard Thinks Big.
Professors Steven Pinker and Daniel Gilbert chat during intermission yesterday at Harvard Thinks Big.

By Bora Fezga

“Populist.” “Aimed at the general public.” “Accessible.”

The New York Times uses these words and phrases to describe Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker and the tests he gives his students. Fair enough. But if the Times wants to give its readers an accurate idea of Science of Living Systems 20, it’s missing a big chunk of the picture—exactly half, in fact.

Daniel Gilbert’s SLS 20 course, usually offered fall semester before Pinker’s spring counterpart, has earned recognition among students not for populism, direction to the common man, or accessibility. On the contrary, what words fit Gilbert’s instructional magnum opuses—his exams?

Esoteric. Aimed at overachieving brownnosers who read the textbook twice before class and 20 times before the test. Impenetrable.

Any Harvard student who has taken SLS 20 should feel ashamed to score anything less than, say, a 7/10 on the Times’ Pinker-style psychology pop quiz. A Gilbert evaluation, on the other hand—if you’re anything like me—should leave you wallowing in your own inferiority and tears. Focused on minor details, crafty tricks, and mostly mind reading, these tests are designed for students to score an average of 50 percent, and for them to feel miserable doing it. Here’s a sample:

1. Jimmy tells Joan that red-haired men like hotdogs more than men of any other hair color. Joan agrees because they just watched a Carrot Top routine about how much the comedian loves hotdogs. This is an example of:

a) the availability heurestic
b) the availability hueristic
c) the availability heuristic

2. In the popular television sitcom The Office, Jim powers on his computer and offers Dwight an Altoid mint multiple times. Then, Jim powers on his computer and does nothing. Dwight still extends his hand for an Altoid. What psychological concept does this illustrate?

a) classical conditioning
b) Pavlovian psychology
c) a and b
d) a, b, and c
e) a and c but not b
f) c, d, and e but not a and maybe b

3. The boy on page 261 of the course textbook, chapters of which, incidentally, I wrote, is wearing a blue shirt. With whom is he more likely to share the same sexual orientation?

a) a monozygotic twin
b) a dizygotic twin
c) a trizygotic twin with whom he slept in the same bed at age three
d) a rat
e) a well-designed test should result in only 5% of the class getting an A

Answers: 1=a, 2=idk, 3=f u

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